It seems that no matter how long we study the Holocaust and World War II, nor how many forms of media we use to unpack their history, there are still stories to tell and histories to uncover. In filmmaker Claus Räfle's stirring 2017 hybrid documentary/dramatization, The Invisibles, we gain four new tales about German survivors who spent the better part of the war hiding from the Reich through different means.
Take Cioma, the talented onetime art student with a knack for forging. Not only did he help save countless lives with near-perfect bogus documents at the unexpected behest of a high-ranking Nazi official, he moved from rented room to rented room, even staying with Reich soldiers on occasion, pretending he was a soon-to-be-deployed soldier himself. Or there's Hanni, a young woman who dyed her hair blonde and spent her days on bustling commercial streets hiding her fear and pretending to shop and dine just like any other carefree German citizen.
Räfle vacillates between real-life interviews with the subjects and cinematic recreations of their harrowing ordeals. From the hidden attic rooms and darkened daytime movie theaters to the eventual Russian and American incursions of Germany, we follow the subjects through pitfalls such as deceitful former school chums, well-meaning townsfolk too scared to do much, or even German officers who knowingly harbored young Jews because it meant free labor. Through every close call, misstep and heart-pounding encounter, we're given thoughts and memories from the people to whom the events actually happened, adding to the humanity and upping the heartbreak factor over and over. No, it's not a particularly easy watch, but it is fascinating to see the clever steps people took and important to understand how pervasive and crushing the fear must have been.
This would be a fantastic film for students, though it's important for anyone to see it, especially for Americans—a shocking number of whom are reportedly unaware that such events transpired. There's a strange silver lining of beauty to be found in the anti-Nazi helpers who opened their homes, or even the cogs of Hitler's machine who understood how insane his ideology truly was—and did something about it.
+Suspenseful and true to life; important history
-Sometimes we lose our bearings in a sea of information
Directed by Räfle
With Max Mauff, Alice Dwyer, Ruby O Fee and Aaron Altaras
Center for Contemporary Arts, NR, 110 min.